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On Thursday, a 42-foot span of intricately carved red cedar will rise above the rocky shoreline of Lyell Island in southern Haida Gwaii,

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The eagle represents the sky and, with the raven farther down, the two ancestral groups, or moieties, that make up Haida society. It and the bottom-feeding sculpin at the base of the pole also symbolize the agreement between the federal government and the Haida to protect Gwaii Haanas from mountaintop to ocean floor. “The last thing that goes in are the eyes,” carver Jaalen Edenshaw explains. “You have a finished piece when it looks back at you.”

Courtesy Parks Canada

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These three characters represent the Watchmen, a Haida summer program that sends community representatives to safeguard five remote and culturally significant sites, four of which are in the park. Each location is assigned two to four watchers, with young people working alongside elders who can hand down tribal lore. As well as being on guard duty, they can answer questions from visitors who arrive by sea kayak or on a boat trip.

Courtesy Parks Canada

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As man’s best friend, the dog, far left, refers to recent archeological discoveries indicating a human presence on Haida Gwaii as early as 14,000 years ago. According to Haida lore, the marten, middle, runs up the post holding Haida Gwaii aloft, creating the sound before a big earthquake. At right, a figure representing all those who visit, and appreciate, Gwaii Haanas.

Courtesy Parks Canada

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The larger figure is Wasco, a supernatural sea wolf, whose paws rest on a late addition to the pole’s imagery – Sacred One Standing and Moving, also a supernatural being and said to hold the post the marten runs up. When he moves, the islands shake, as they did last October, when a 7.7-magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami alert that sparked a massive, middle-of-the-night evacuation. Again, on Jan. 4, a 7.5 quake struck beneath Dixon Entrance, the body of water that separates Haida Gwaii from Alaska. By then, the pole design had been approved, but Mr. Edenshaw asked to add Sacred One and move up the park visitor.

Courtesy Parks Canada

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To balance the eagle’s top billing, the raven depiction is not only much larger but shown wrapping the humans below in its embrace.

Courtesy Parks Canada

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These figures, called Five Standing Together, are Mr. Edenshaw’s favourites. They symbolize the demonstrators’ blockade on Lyell Island that led to the creation of Gwaii Haanas (logging companies received $106-million in compensation), which is managed by a board evenly split between the Haida and Parks Canada. “It hasn’t always been easy,” says park superintendent Ernie Gladstone, also a member of the Haida Nation. “But it’s strong now: When a decision is made, it’s a better decision.” The joint approach has drawn worldwide attention. “Hopefully,” says board member Jason Alsop, chief executive officer of the Haida Heritage Centre, “it’s an inspiration to others that, despite historical injustices, you can find a way to work together.”

Courtesy Parks Canada

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The base image commemorates the dual nature of the park, which, since 2010, also has been a marine conservation area. Land is represented by the grizzly, which holds mythical stature in Haida culture even though the great bear has not been seen on the islands in living memory. Still, researchers have found ancient grizzly bones in local caves, which Mr. Edenshaw calls “a good example of science catching up with our stories.” Finally, the spiny sculpin, a fish with a nasty sting, symbolizes the ocean. Said to be closely associated with the king of the underwater world, it appears widely in Haida family crests.

Courtesy Parks Canada

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